There are a few topics that I can go on and on..and on about. Pressure cooking, preserved lemons, potato starches, vanilla and SALT! Salt. So simple, yet so complex. And confusing. I can't count the number of times that salt has come up in a class - and I need a whole 'nother class for that! Prepare yourselves, we're about to get a little salty.
Not many topics get me all worked up like salt. Salt in it's natural form contains minerals that are good for us. Seawater (and consequently, salt) contains virtually every element in the earth’s crust. Nine of the top ten elements in our bodies are among the top eleven elements in the sea. Get ready for a mini rant. I'm already all worked up!
So what do the major salt producers of iodized table salt do to it? They strip off the minerals and run it through a cleaning (read: bleaching) process to make it look more white. Therefore it must be more clean, right? NO! Then they add iodine and sometimes aluminum-based anti-caking agents as well as corn syrup to cut the bitterness of the iodine. WHAT???!!! They do WHAT??!! Seriously guys, this gets me MAD. To a pure element that was perfectly good to start with. In fact, it was BETTER to start with.
Ok, I admit. At one point and time we needed the iodine. But at what price? Also, they make perfectly good iodine tablets available at any major grocery store or health food store. So please, for the love of all things holy, if you have processed, iodized table salt in your cupboard make it your last. Go ahead, use it up. You know I hate waste. But move into other better salts. You can get them in the spice isle of your local grocery.
Ok, moving on from my rant. But I am really passionate about salt. Ridiculously so.
"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea.” - Pythagoras
Let's dive into the history of salt. Historians disagree over when and where salt curing was discovered, but there is evidence that salt preservation has been practiced since before the last ice age – some 12,000 years ago by Neanderthals. Salt was often used as currency throughout history. The word “salary” comes from payment by salt as wages. And taxes from salt were even used to fund the Great Wall of China!
Then comes along the Industrial Revolution. Anything machine processed was automatically considered "better" and it saved labor, money and increased production. So salt become a processed mineral. The industrial revolution almost destroyed family owned artisanal salt producers. The current trend in food awareness over the past 40 years is helping to revitalize these small salt producers.
"There may be those who seek not gold, yet there never lived a man who desires not salt." -Secretary to the Ostrogothic King of Italy (528 CE)
But what is salt and where does it come from? Did you know that ALL salt originates in the sea? Therefore ALL salt is sea salt? No matter what type. And out of all of those salts, there are two main types: rock and evaporative. Rock salts are mined from depositories in the earth while evaporative salts are crystallized from saltwater. Easily stated, sea salt come from the sea while rock salts like Himalayan Pink Salt and come from depositories deep in the earth.
Here are two videos that I love that show how these two types of salt are harvested:
How Sea Salt is Harvested
How Himalayan Salt is Harvested
“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea.” – Isac Dinesen
So, let's talk about salt and health for a minute. Salt has gotten a bad rep over the past 20ish years. And I will point out - I am NOT a doctor, nor do I claim to be suggesting that you do what I say for your health. However, your body cannot survive without salt. Ideally, we would get all the salt we need from natural, whole foods. There are only two ways to get enough salt in your diet to survive: eat animal flesh and eat some salt. At present, Americans consume between 4,000 and 5,000 milligrams of sodium per day, 77% of which come from processed foods and restaurants. If we stopped eating restaurant and processed food and doubled the amount of other foods we ate, we’d eat about half the amount of salt that we do today. So what I am suggesting is to get rid of the processed salts that have little benefit, switch over to natural salts which will provide you with minerals and DRAMATICALLY cut down on your processed food intake.
I would also suggest that if your doctor is suggesting for you to cut down your salt intake that you do just that. But also be informed and ask them if they mean all salts or certain salts and exactly to what level. That way you will have a frame of reference of how to manage your salt intake. Remember, not all salts are made equal.
No two salts are EVER the same. Salinity, minerality, humidity and more can change the profile of salt. Salt is unique, continually changing based on our world. There are seven classes of artisan salts: fleur de sel, sel gris, traditional, flake, shio, rock and unconventional. “Modified” salt is defined by the above classes after they are altered.
For a quick reference, here are the salts broken up into categories as defined by Mark Bitterman in the book "Salted" :
· Fleur de Sel: Solar harvested from open saline water, using rakes to pull the fine crystals from the surface of the pans. Has highly irregular crystals that contain a considerable amount of moisture. Great for: Finishing salt, cooking salt for specialty dishes. Some make good all-purpose cooking salts.
· Sel Gris: Same process as Fleur de Sel, however, the brine of the sel gris is allowed to contact the clay in the bottoms of the pan, which is what makes it gray. This provides a deeper minerality. Great for: Finishing salt for meats or hearty plates. Pro tip: Because of the clay and moisture content, sel gris will not absorb moisture away from your food and it great for slow cooked dishes to help retain moisture.
· Traditional: Catch-all category for solar and fire evaporated salt made periodically or seasonally. Harvesting may include using large plows to drawn across a salt pan or simple scooping with on hand tools. Great for: Finishing salt and great all-purpose cooking salt.
· Flake: Solar or evaporated with pyramidal, flake or layered parchment like crystals. Great for: Fresh vegetables or salads.
· Shio: Seawater evaporated over a fire, in a greenhouse or other ways, then crystallized over fire to form exceptionally fine granular crystals. Great for: Any dish where the food is front and center – this salt will not add extra flavor or texture.
· Rock salt: Mined from the earth in any size. This type of salt is used for the popular cooking blocks of salt. Great for: Any use. If texture is desired, leave in larger crystals. If dissolving is desired, grind very fine and it will dissolve.
· Unconventional: Salt that falls out of the above criteria. May be made using high tech processes and/or include salt with unusual or artificially formed crystals.
· Modified Salt: A sub-classification for any class of salt that is altered in some way after it’s creation, such as smoking, infusing, blending or roasting.
Let there be work, bread, water and, salt for all.” – Nelson Mandela
I hope this blog helped answer some questions you may have about salt. Think of it as an important ingredient as you start using salt in new and inventive ways. Much of my information came from the book "Salted" by Mark Bitterman. If you loved this blog I would suggest checking out his book!